Q: How can I protect my ideas if im dead broke?
A: For a short period of time, you can keep your idea a secret. This may not work forever as others may eventually come to the same solution for the same problem.
There is a pro bono program for inventors run at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I have not used this program but can get you started with a link to their web page. https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/using-legal-services/pro-bono/patent-pro-bono-program.
Ideally you find an attorney that can work with you to guide you through the process as the process is not totally logical and a bright person would not guess that it works the way it does.
Here are some resources to help bring you up to speed so that you can be well prepared before your first meeting with the pro bono attorney. The attorney can help you prepare and file a provisional patent application perhaps at the micro entity pay scale (75% off the filing fee). This will give you some time to seek out investors. The provisional application will need to be replaced with a non-provisional application with all the formalities and the important patent claims within a year.
Protecting Your Competitive Advantages--http://bit.ly/Protecting_Advantages
Patent Searching for Entrepreneurs--http://bit.ly/Patent_Searching
Provisional Patent Applications-- http://bit.ly/Provisional_GBU
A: Well, that depends on what sort of protection for your idea you are looking for.
An idea by itself is not protectable; anyone can have an idea. The expression of an idea may be protected by a copyright; a symbol or a name may be protected by a trademark; an invention may be protected by a patent; information can be protected by trade secret laws.
The good news is that if you are trying to protect something that is copyrightable, then the protection does not cost you anything. If you write an article, or a book, or a movie script, or shoot a movie, and like, then it is copyrighted when you fix in a tangible medium. It used to be that you had to submit it to the Copyright Office, but now that is not needed to get a copyright. Read the story about J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series: she too was broke when she started writing the Harry Potter books, and now she is one of the richest people in the UK.
Further good news is that if you are trying to protect something that is trademarkable, then, again, the protection will not cost you anything. If you open up a business called “dead broke handyman, LLC”, then others will not be able to rip off your business name because you will be protected by your state’s trademark laws. Getting your name federally registered, and using the little ®, so that you are protected under the federal laws will cost you a few hundred dollars, but likely getting protection under your state’s laws is free. You need to check with a trademark attorney in Virginia for more information on this.
Still further good news is that if you are trying to protect something that can be considered a trade secret, then again, the protection will not cost you anything. A trade secret is some information that you take steps to protect and that is economically valuable because it is secret. It could be a customer list, a recipe, a method of making something, etc.
As far as patenting your invention goes, then it is not so easy to get a patent for free. You will need to pay for the various fees with the Patent Office. And you will also need to pay a patent attorney or a patent agent for his/her time and expertise to write a patent for you (you certainly can write the patent application yourself, but it is rare for a person who is not a patent attorney or a patent agent to do it by himself/herself). The cost of getting a patent is going to be in a range of $10,000 to $30,000.
Luckily though, under the US laws, you can file a patent application up to a year after you have disclosed your invention. So if you make a new product, and you put it on sale, write about it in trade publications, advertise it, etc., and your product becomes a success so that within a few months it earns you lots of money, then you will be able to afford the cost of getting the patent.
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